Arthritis in the Elderly
Do you have trouble dialing the phone? Do your knees ache after sitting through a Sunday afternoon football game? Do you wake up with a stiff neck almost every morning?
If so, you are likely among the millions of people who suffer from arthritis. This is a disease that affects people of all ages, although it affects older adults and women more often. It causes stiffness, pain and tenderness around the joints. It is most often found in the hands, feet, knees, and hips. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. The most common is osteoarthritis.
While the symptoms vary from person to person, each person with osteoarthritis has joint breakdown. Osteoarthritis is thought of as a disease that gets worse over time. Some people have many symptoms while others have few symptoms. Pain is the most common symptom.
In the early stages, you may have joint pain that worsens with activity and can be relieved by rest. Those in more severe stages may have joint pain at rest. Weight bearing joints (knees, hips) may “lock” or “give way” due to wear and tear on the joints. Stiffness in the morning or after long periods of rest can also occur. The stiffness rarely exceeds 30 minutes.
Other symptoms may include:
- Swelling and/or redness around the joints
- Snapping of the joints
- Loss of movement
- Bony growths at the joints or gnarling fingers
- Age: Osteoarthritis may increase due to simple “wear and tear”, the older you are the more you use your joints. But this does not mean that arthritis is a normal part of aging.
- Obesity: Increased body weight adds stress to your lower body joints. For every pound you gain, you add 4 pounds of pressure on your knees and 6 times the pressure on your hips.
- Injury or Overuse: Athletes or people whose jobs perform the same motion over and over have increased stress on certain joints.
- Muscle weakness: Weakness of the muscles around joints is linked to arthritis. This is why exercising is helpful.
- Genetics or Heredity.
Living with arthritis
Arthritis does not need to restrict you from your normal daily routines. There are things you can do to help yourself live more comfortably.
- Plan your day. Do the most important things first when you have the most energy. Plan only for what you can handle. This helps reduce stress and fatigue.
- Keep moving. Do not sit for long periods of time. Sitting may cause your joints to become stiff.
- Avoid fatigue. Take short naps or rest periods during the day. Switch between heavy and light tasks.
- Conserve your energy. Put things you use most often in easy to reach places. Stock up on grocery items you use often.
- Have good posture. This reduces stress on your joints.
- Use more of your body when lifting. Use your palms instead of fingers. Carry objects closer to your chest.
Your arthritis pain can be managed and treated. Finding a treatment that works for you may take time. Talk to a member of your health care team to find out which options are best for you.
Over-the-counter pills: Are often taken to relieve the minor pain of arthritis. They can be bought without a prescription, but have side effects and can cause problems for you if taken in large doses or for a long period of time. Be sure and dscuss with your pharmacist and/or health care provider before taking.
- Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®) relieves pain.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. Ibuprofen/Advil®, aspirin/Bayer®, naproxen/Aleve®) relieve pain, and reduce swelling of the joints. These anti-inflammatory drugs should be used only after checking with your health care provider.
Herbal or alternative therapies may also help you, but it is important to talk to your health care team before adding more pills to your daily routine.
For the best results, medicines can be combined with other methods of pain relief that you can use on your own. These include:
Hot and cold therapy. Use hot packs to relax stiff muscles. Use cold packs to reduce muscle spasms and dull pain.
Diet. Try to eat healthy. Make sure you get enough calcium in your diet (1200 mg/day for men and women over 50).
Exercise. Walking, water aerobics, and stretching are best to loosen stiff joints.
Relaxation. You may want to explore techniques to help you relax.
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
Using these techniques regularly and getting enough rest is the key to long-term relaxation.
Making sure your plan works for you is important for the quality of your life. If a given treatment is not working well for you or is causing unpleasant side effects, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help you find other options.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 10/26/2011
Copyright © 10/26/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5725
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